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Spotlight On: Sefton’s Maritime History

Sefton is synonymous with its maritime history with two important stories of the 20th Century not to be forgotten.

Edward Smith was the captain of the famous RMS Titanic, a British passenger liner that sank on its maiden voyage after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912.

Smith began his life at sea as a teenager, following his half-brother to Merseyside he began his apprenticeship aboard the Senator Weber, owned by A Gibson & Co. of Liverpool. Smith rose up the ranks quickly and in 1880 joined the White Star Line.

Founded in Liverpool in 1845 it had grown to become one of the most prominent shipping lines in the world.

In 1887 Edward Smith married Sarah Eleanor and they moved into a house in Waterloo where they lived for almost ten years.

Edward Smith was considered one of the world’s most experienced sea captains when the RMS Titanic left Southampton for New York on 10 April 1912.

However, days into the voyage she hit an iceberg and The Titanic was severely damaged and shortly after 2 am on April 15 the ship slipped into the cold, dark waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Smith, along with over 1,500 crew and passengers perished at sea.

Separately, The Lusitania was an ocean liner that was sunk off the coast of Ireland on May 7, 1915. The liner had a number of American citizens on board and this attack on a civilian vessel presaged the United States Declaration of War on Germany in 1917.

There were at least 145 local crew members on board the Lusitania when it was sunk.

Joseph Parry from Aintree, along with Leslie Morton from Wallasey are widely considered to be heroes of the Lusitania.

When the liner began to sink, the two men jumped in the sea after a lifeboat that had begun to float away, they ripped off the cover of the boat and rescued around 50 people. They took them to a safe place before returning to save around more 30 people from a sinking lifeboat. Together, the men saved nearly 100 lives and in recognition of their bravery, they were awarded medals for gallantry.

Parry and Morton showed exceptional courage and determination that day and fortunately survived.

Others were not so fortunate. John Henry Hayes was a junior engineer at the time of the disaster. He had left his pregnant wife in their home in Bootle, unaware he would not see them again. No record of his final moments survived nor was his body ever found.

In the days following the sinking of the Lusitania, anti-German riots swept through the region. Despite the misguided, xenophobic anger of many, many residents sheltered and protected German neighbours and friends. These people displayed a heroism which teaches us all to be tolerant and accepting in the face of xenophobia and racism.

Finally, Captain Frederic John Walker became the most successful anti-submarine warfare commander during the Battle of the Atlantic, spending most of his service based in and around Bootle.
Educated at Royal Naval College, Walker served in WW1 as a sub lieutenant and went on to become an expert in anti-submarine warfare.

Johnnie Walker’s statue stands at the Pier Head in Liverpool and the bell from his most famous ship, HMS Starling, is rung in Bootle Town Hall to commence every council meeting. A blue plaque marks his home close to Bootle Town Hall.

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